Uzbekistan seeking new path to progress and prosperity with China
Published: Dec 28, 2023 07:46 PM
A rendering of the Olympic village in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, co-built by Chinese companies. Photo: VCG

A rendering of the Olympic village in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, co-built by Chinese companies. Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:

The year 2023 has been a busy one for China in terms of its interactions with the rest of the world. Its foreign relations always have a profound impact on its economy, strategy and people's livelihoods. Global Times, in collaboration with China's universities and think tanks, is now releasing a series of country reports. The aim of these reports is to enhance understanding of relevant countries, provide a framework for dealing with China's relations with these countries, and grasp the trajectory of these relations.

In the second report of the series, we focus on Uzbekistan, a country located in Central Asia.

Uzbekistan is China's comprehensive strategic partner. Since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office, Uzbekistan has attached great importance to its relationship with China, actively participating in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In the future, the two countries should consolidate the existing achievements and continue to promote the steady progress of the China-Uzbekistan relationship, advancing the high-quality development of the BRI.

Successful accomplishments

Political mutual trust between China and Uzbekistan has reached a new level. In 2013, China proposed the initiative to build the "Silk Road Economic Belt," which was highly praised by Uzbekistan as a significant measure to revive the ancient Silk Road. 

In May 2017, President Mirziyoyev made his first state visit to China after taking office. In April 2021, President Xi Jinping said during a phone call with President Mirziyoyev that China is ready to work with Uzbekistan to upgrade the scale, quality and level of China-Uzbekistan cooperation, and synergize the BRI and the plan to build a "New Uzbekistan." In February 2022, President Mirziyoyev was invited to visit China to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. In September 2022, President Xi paid a state visit to Uzbekistan and attended the 22nd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Samarkand. In May 2023, President Mirziyoyev attended the China-Central Asia Summit during a state visit to China. In October, President Mirziyoyev visited China again to attend the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

The pragmatic China-Uzbekistan cooperation has also achieved new breakthroughs. Currently, China is Uzbekistan's largest source of imports and trading partner, and the second-largest destination for exports. Road connectivity is a key focus of China-Uzbekistan cooperation, effectively promoting Uzbekistan's transformation from a "landlocked country" to a "land-linked country." The Angren-Pap railway line, the longest tunnel in Uzbekistan and Central Asia built by Chinese enterprises, has been successfully completed. The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan transport corridor becomes an international transportation artery that spans mountains. The four routes of the China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline all pass through Uzbekistan, setting a benchmark for friendly cooperation between neighboring countries.

Additionally, cultural exchanges between China and Uzbekistan are bursting with new vitality. Frequent exchanges have taken place between universities, think tanks, media outlets, as well as arts, archaeology and healthcare sectors of the two countries. Agreement and memoranda of understanding have been signed in the field of tourism cooperation. With Uzbekistan implementing a 10-day visa-free policy for tourists from China, tourism cooperation between China and Uzbekistan is poised for further expansion in scale.

Uzbekistan has attached great importance to its relationship with China and actively participated in the BRI. The BRI meets the common needs of both China and Uzbekistan. Uzbek experts have a positive and objective attitude toward the BRI and agree that the attitude of Central Asian countries toward the BRI has changed from cautious observation to active participation. They believe that the overall characteristic of the BRI is common development and mutual benefit.

Uzbekistan considers participation in the BRI as an important external driving force for its economic development and proposes new cooperation demands. It hopes to become a trans-Eurasian logistics and transportation hub, and aims to attract Chinese funds and technologies to vigorously develop its industry. Moreover, it seeks to expand its exports of goods to China, promote the tourism industry, as well as expand scientific, educational, and cultural exchanges with China. 

Deepening cooperation

China has clearly stated its support for Uzbekistan in maintaining sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and China firmly opposes any forces interfering in Uzbekistan's internal affairs under any condition. Both countries are at a critical stage of reform and development, with China comprehensively promoting the Chinese path to modernization and Uzbekistan striving for building a "New Uzbekistan." Both countries are facing the test of international changes, therefore they should deepen all-round cooperation, build a community of shared future between China and Uzbekistan, and create a better future together.

We should take advantage of Uzbekistan's geographical advantage of bordering all other Central Asian countries to build China-Central Asia industrial clusters. By leveraging manufacturing advantages, we can establish upstream, midstream and downstream clusters, achieving regionalization of the entire production chain. It is necessary to promote the formation of clusters consisting of similar products and enterprises to enhance industrial resilience and ensure overall stable development. We should attach great importance to cultivating new forms of economic and trade cooperation through digital empowerment, and gradually promote the digital signatures, automatic registration and green customs clearance to enhance trade facilitation. We should also pay attention to the market value of the cyberspace and promote the combination of cross-border e-commerce and market networks. Moreover, we need to develop the "Internet Plus" model to promote the integration of virtual markets and the real economy.

Considering the simplistic commodity structure in bilateral trade, we should take advantage of Uzbekistan's desire to expand exports, continue to optimize the structure of commodity trade, continuously expand new cooperation areas, import more high-quality Uzbek products and achieve diversified development.

We should give full play to our comparative advantages and expand economic and trade cooperation with Uzbekistan. We can also focus on strengthening cooperation in new energy, innovation, tourism and other fields, and encourage Chinese enterprises to further explore the Uzbekistan tourism market. It is vital to continue to accelerate the construction of transportation and information infrastructure and promote interconnection. China should speed up the trilateral railway cooperation project with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to fully tap into the regional transportation potential and leverage the advantages of transit transportation.

In terms of strengthening people-to-people cooperation and promoting cultural exchanges, we should continue to effectively run institutions such as China research centers and Confucius Institutes, and speed up the construction of cultural centers and Luban workshops. Encouraging China's Double First-Class Universities to actively cooperate with universities in Uzbekistan and explore cooperation models such as opening branch campuses and joint training projects in Uzbekistan is essential. Additionally, we should strengthen high-quality think tank exchanges, focusing on topics such as bilateral relations, regional security, pragmatic cooperation, national governance and inclusive development. We should fully utilize Xinjiang's role as a bridgehead in carrying out cooperation with Central Asia. Promoting the implementation of the visa-free policy and inter-regional tourism cooperation as well as continuing cooperation in the field of health are also important.

In terms of enhancement of exchanges in modernization construction and poverty alleviation, we should share China's experience in reform and opening-up with Uzbekistan. We can organize training for Uzbek officials to conduct on-site research and study the path, key difficulties and solutions of China's reform and opening-up. At the same time, Chinese experts can be sent to Uzbekistan to provide consultation on Uzbekistan's participation in the BRI to boost its national economy. Uzbekistan can learn from China's experience and strengthen exchanges and cooperation with China on poverty alleviation, especially when it comes to attracting, utilizing and retaining foreign investment.

It is important to strengthen cooperation on multilateral platforms and in the security field to contribute to maintaining regional stability and security. We should strengthen the security cooperation of the SCO. The focus should be on preventing non-traditional security threats such as terrorism, separatism and extremism. The SCO needs to explore the establishment of mechanisms to deal with domestic turmoil in member states, conflicts in the region, and the spillover of risks from neighboring countries. This includes strengthening security coordination and cooperation among member states, observer states, and dialogue partners, as well as formulating mechanisms to coordinate differences and contradictions among member states. Such mechanisms can also help prevent the escalation of conflicts among member states and avoid endangering the development of other member states and the SCO.

Outlook for 2024

2023 is a landmark year in the history of the development of China-Uzbekistan relations. The close high-level interaction between the two countries reflects the high level and particularity of bilateral relations, highlighting the distinctive features of mutual respect, good-neighborly friendship, helping each other in times of trouble, mutual benefit and win-win results. In 2024, the two sides will step up the implementation of the outcomes of the China-Central Asia Summit and multiple bilateral cooperation documents signed in 2023 on digital economy, sub-national cooperation, infrastructure, and so on. The two countries will further align development strategies, deepen the integration of economic interests, take the opportunity of the BRI entering a new stage of high-quality development, implement the mid- to long-term cooperation plan for China-Uzbekistan trade and investment, and deepen cooperation in various fields such as economy, trade, investment, finance, interconnection, agriculture, energy and green development.

The two countries should give full play to the complementary advantages of industries, promote trade, optimize trade structure, and maintain the stability of industrial and supply chains. They should further strengthen cooperation in counter-terrorism, drug control, combating transnational organized crime, cyber and biosecurity and jointly maintain a safe and stable development environment. They are expected to collaborate closely within multilateral mechanisms such as the UN and the SCO to safeguard the common interests of developing countries and international fairness and justice.

Xu Changzhi and Su Chang are research fellows at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Chen Dongjie is deputy director of the Central Asia Research Institute at Shaanxi Normal University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn